This Is Why Five Guys' Milkshakes Are So Delicious

While burgers and fries are great on their own, nothing is better than burgers, fries, and a milkshake. This quintessential accompaniment to the classic American meal dates back to the 1880s, when the term referred to a whiskey-laced drink similar to eggnog. By the early 1900s, Hamilton Beach had invented an electric drink mixer that spawned the ice-cream based concoction we know and love today.

Milkshakes had their first real heyday in the 1950s, alongside the rise of burger joints and soda fountains. Now, we expect most fast food restaurants that serve burgers to have some version of a milkshake as well. But at one of the best-loved burger chains in America, Five Guys, milkshakes didn't debut until 2014, 28 years after the restaurant's first location opened. The wait was worth it, and now, Five Guys makes some of the most delicious milkshakes around. Here's what makes the Five Guys' milkshake different from other fast food frozen treats.

Five Guys' milkshakes are hand-spun

Five Guys proudly advertises that its milkshakes are "hand-spun," which is the kind of phrase we're used to seeing on menus and signs. But what does it actually mean? The answer is pretty straightforward: A hand-spun milkshake is made by a human being who puts ingredients into a container and blends them.

While this might seem like the obvious approach to crafting any milkshake, many fast food chains don't actually do it that way. At McDonald's, for example, the milkshakes are machine-made from "shake syrup," which almost makes them a different thing altogether. Perhaps that's why they're referred to as "shakes" and not milkshakes on the menu.

While Five Guys isn't the only chain that has hand-spun milkshakes — Burger King, Wendy's, and Chick-fil-A are among the other competitors who lay claim to the term — there are other qualities that set the Five Guys version apart from the crowd.

All of Five Guys' milkshakes start with a vanilla base

As is the case with most works of art, a great milkshake starts with a great foundation. At Five Guys, rather than messing with multiple ice cream flavors or a bunch of flavored syrups to create different milkshake variations, the restaurant starts with a consistent base that will always taste great: vanilla. Widely considered to be one of the world's favorite flavors, vanilla is anything but basic. At its best, vanilla is fragrant and complex while still providing a relatively blank canvas for the layering of other flavors.

Because one of the big draws of the Five Guys hand-spun milkshake is the fact that it is fully customizable, starting with an expertly crafted vanilla base means that you're pretty likely to end up with something that tastes good, whether you choose to add one topping or ten toppings or go with a classic vanilla shake with nothing but a little bit of whipped cream to add some oomph.

You can customize your milkshake with ten mix-ins at Five Guys

All Five Guys milkshakes start as vanilla, but if you're looking for something a little more interesting, it's hard to beat the customization that this burger joint offers. There are ten individual mix-ins: bacon, cherries, Oreo cookies, peanut butter, bananas, coffee, chocolate, malted milk, and strawberries. Whether you choose one, two, or all ten, the base price of the milkshake will remain the same, which is a serious incentive for experimentation.

We truly believe that bacon should be added to basically any milkshake you order at Five Guys, especially the popular Elvis-inspired milkshake made with peanut butter, bacon, and banana. Even if you're not a meat-eater, there are a ton of other creative combinations to choose from: over 40,000, to be exact. Go for a classic flavor combination like chocolate–cherry, Oreo–coffee, or a favorite flavor with a vintage feel that harkens back to the 1950s: vanilla with malted milk and whipped cream.

There's a reason it took Five Guys so long to roll them out

If the milkshakes at Five Guys are so good, it makes perfect sense to wonder why it took the chain almost 30 years to roll them out. The answer lies in one of the foundational policies that helped make Five Guys synonymous with high quality, fresh tasting burgers, and fries: the no-freezer rule.

In order to make absolutely sure that no frozen items could make their way into the kitchens at Five Guys, ingredients that need to be kept extra cold are actually kept in coolers rather than freezers. The founders knew this would prevent them from serving popular items like milkshakes and ice cream, but it was a hit that, for a long time, they were willing to take.

In an interview with Inc., founder Jerry Murrell came right out and said: "If we put one frozen thing in our restaurant, we'd be done. That's why we won't do milkshakes. For years, people have been asking for them! But we'd have to do real ice cream and real milk." Thankfully, he finally caved and agreed to allow freezers for this one item.

The list of milkshake ingredients at Five Guys is surprisingly short

A lot of fast food items are synonymous with long lists of ingredients, many of which are hard to pinpoint as food, per se. This is another area where the milkshakes at Five Guys are very different from their competitors' offerings. At Five Guys, the milkshakes are made with just a few simple ingredients: primarily milk, nonfat milk, sugar, whey, and whatever toppings you choose to have mixed in to your creation, so you know exactly what you're getting when you order one of these hand-spun milkshakes.

The same cannot be said for other hand-spun milkshake options in the fast food space. By contrast, a Burger King milkshake contains over twenty ingredients, many of them in the difficult-to-pronounce category, including both regular and high-fructose corn syrup. The Icedream base alone that Chick-fil-A uses for its milkshake contains a long list of ingredients, including Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, and that's before we get into the 20-plus other ingredients that make up the Chick-fil-A Chocolate Milkshake.

Five Guys employees are motivated to make a perfect shake

Besides using fresh, natural ingredients, there are several other ways that Five Guys differentiates itself in a sea of fast food restaurants specializing in burgers. Employees are trained to hold themselves to high standards of food safety and preparation, and in another out-of-the-box move by the Five Guys corporate team, they're not allowed to use timers because "good cooks should know when the food is done."

Another nontraditional move? The restaurant doesn't really spend money on advertising, relying instead on positive reviews and word of mouth. To take things a step further, employee compensation is tied to the scores they receive through a robust secret shopper program, which means that every Five Guys employee is financially motivated to make you the best possible milkshake. While this is also one of the factors that make Five Guys' food more expensive than that of some of their competitors, it's generally worth it to have better-tasting, higher-quality food.

Five Guys' milkshakes regularly appear on best-of lists

It can be easy to dismiss a fast food milkshake as an afterthought to the burgers and fries, especially when it comes to determining how one burger joint stacks up against another in a battle to be one of the internet's favorite restaurants. However, devotees of frozen fast food treats actually have dedicated power rankings where they specifically analyze and compare the milkshake offerings at various chains.

While not all milkshakes make the cut, the highly customizable Five Guys offerings regularly appear on lists of the best fast food milkshakes available, including lists from Redbook, Spoon University, Insider, and Newsday, among others. Fans of Five Guys note that the chain uses high-quality Ghirardelli chocolate syrup to switch up the vanilla base, which definitely puts this option a cut above other chocolate shakes. Others, like Spoon University's list, mention the fact that you can add free bacon — an obvious upside to getting your milkshake fix from Five Guys.

Five Guys follows all the rules for making a great milkshake

One of the best things about milkshakes is that they're actually not all that hard to make, as long as you follow the basic rules. According to Taste of Home, it only takes three simple steps to achieve milkshake perfection. 

First, you'll want to gather milk, ice cream, and whatever mix-ins you're using to get to your flavor destination. Five Guys has the first step down pat, with its signature vanilla base made from a short list of natural ingredients and ten high-quality mix-ins to choose from. Next, you'll want to blend your shake until it is super smooth. The Five Guys shake is so smooth, actually, that some have likened its consistency to soft-serve ice cream. The last step is almost too simple to mention, which is to pour and enjoy milkshake perfection, preferably alongside a Five Guys burger and a side of the chain's signature thick-cut, double-fried french fries.

None of the 40,000-plus combinations at Five Guys actually taste bad

There is something to be said for having fewer choices on a fast food menu because it means that there is less of a chance that you'll order something that doesn't actually taste so great. The Five Guys approach to the milkshake throws that bit of wisdom out the window, offering customers practically unlimited options to create their own flavor combinations thanks to an array of mix-ins. While this could create a situation where customers try to one-up each other by creating gross flavor combinations, it seems like that's kind of hard to do. 

Over at Thrillist, the editorial team taste-tested all ten of the mix-ins as single-flavor milkshakes and found that they all offered something positive for people who tended to enjoy those flavors in general. At Her Campus, writers tried some more intriguing flavor combinations, like peanut butter–cherry and one milkshake with every topping except coffee. Even the one with almost everything was "honestly, not bad."